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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2005

Russia has interest in U.S.-India nuke deal

President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an agreement last week to let India receive international nuclear assistance for its nuclear reactors without giving up its nuclear weapons.

You may remember that India, which tested a nuclear weapon in 1974 and then again in 1998, has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which - signed by 187 states - has been the foundation of international security since President Eisenhower. Many an international security expert understandably views Washington's flirting with New Delhi as lowering the bar for proliferation of nuclear weapons, a price too high for offsetting China's growing clout.

The worry is that countries such as Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan will now lose whatever scruples they may still have and sell sensitive nuclear technologies. The latter has admitted to sharing their nuclear weapons technologies with other states. The rest have not.

Russia's reaction to the U.S.-India agreement, or rather the absence of such, feeds into such worries.

Consider:

Only a couple of years ago Russia had been vehemently against the U.S. missile-defense initiative that unraveled the 1972 U.S.-Russian missile-defense treaty widely considered essential to international security.

Appeased by promises of economic incentives, the Kremlin has since eased its rhetoric and even talked about participating in the U.S. program.

This time the Kremlin voiced no objections to what was widely considered a threat to an international accord viewed as crucial to international security.

It's either that Russian President Vladimir Putin has become an unconditional supporter of Washington a la British Prime Minister Tony Blair, or - more likely - there is something in it for him.

Here is why Moscow played along with Washington and New Delhi:

  • Washington and New Delhi have the Kremlin fixated on the prospect of the coveted ascension to the World Trade Organization that would bring the Kremlin billions of dollars in trade revenues. The United States and India have been the only two WTO members that Moscow sees as not yet convinced of its worthiness.

  • Roughly a quarter of Russian weapons exports goes to India, which makes the Kremlin loath to risk falling out of New Delhi's graces. While some experts note that India is increasing its own production of weapons based on Russian technologies, relatively cheap Russian weapons remain reasonably attractive to the not-so-affluent India.

  • Russia has been actively assisting Iran with its nuclear programs despite Washington's concerns that Tehran will use them to produce nuclear weapons. The Kremlin recently reaffirmed its commitment to the Iranian nuclear program after hard-line conservatives consolidated their power in Iran.

    The principle of nuclear nonproliferation was the legal basis for U.S. protests against such assistance. The weaker the principle, the less headache for Russia.

    At the end of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union kept each other and the third parties in check as far as nuclear weapons go and that's why we are still here. The danger now is that while the United States facilitates nuclear programs in democratic states such as India, Russia does the same in pariah states such as Iran. This would lead to a new nuclear arms race.



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